The story of Edith Mirante travels among the indigenous
peoples of Burma's remote war zones, bordering China,
India, Laos and Bangladesh.
DOWN THE RAT HOLE: ADVENTURES UNDERGROUND ON BURMAS
FRONTIERS ASIAN NON-FICTION
(Teri Fitsell )
Edith Mirante has been aptly described by her publisher as
"a dedicated writer with the soul of a poet and the passion
of a revolutionary". She describes herself simply as a
gatherer of information on Myanmar. It's a task to which
this American artist has dedicated nearly 20 years of her
life. Her commentaries are regularly broadcast on the BBC
World Service, she's lectured for Amnesty International and
Greenpeace, and she's given evidence about Myanmar before
the US Congress.
Mirante's first book, Burmese Looking Glass, was about her
clandestine journeys into Myanmar from Thailand in the
mid-1980s. It was subtitled A Human Rights Adventure and a
Jungle Revolution and described how her eyes were opened to
oppression in Myanmar. In 1986, she founded Project Maje (www.projectmaje.org)
to disseminate information around the world about the plight
of the Myanmese people. Her efforts in Thailand resulted in
her being jailed twice and then deported in 1988.
Mirante's new book is as interesting as the first. Starting
in 1991, it describes her journeys through China, Laos,
India and Bangladesh to talk secretly to indigenous people
struggling to gain their freedom. She visits the rebel Chin
National Front, active on the Bangladesh/Myanmar border; she
crosses treacherous hills on the China border with members
of the Kachin IO's 3rd brigade to visit the Kachin State;
and she hides out in Chittagong, Bangladesh, awaiting her
chance to reach the Hill Tracts of Bandarban.
The book is so named after the words of an Arakan ruler who
described "the futility of an army pursuing hill tribe
raiders as an elephant trying to 'enter the hole of a rat'".
However, Mirante says that, "in modern Burma, the
elephantine Tatmadaw tramples everything in its path, rat
holes, nests of insurgents, peaceful villages, alike".
The book details not only human rights abuses but also the
destruction of the Burmese environment under SLORC (the
State Law and Order Restoration Committee, now known as the
SPDC), "the junta ruling Burma following its suppression of
the 1988 democracy uprising". She describes unregulated
logging, strategic deforestation, gas and oil exploration
and gold mining, the use of dangerous pesticides such as
paraquat and increases in pollution.
The list of environmental crimes is almost as long as the
list of different factions of rebels struggling in these
remote areas. There are the Chins, the Was, Kachins, Karens,
Rakhines, Mons and many others. The succinct glossary helps
sort any confusion.
It's the author's no-frills passion for her subject, as well
as her wit and humour that make the book so readable. Her
journeys comprise arduous days of hiking over hills, wading
through streams and hiding from the authorities. Her aim is
to reach the people who live in the midst of the struggle
and destruction and tell their stories to the world. She
rarely focuses on herself or how (or why) she endures the
dangers, rigours and hardships that go with her task. Nor
does she indulge in polemic or cries of outrage. She tells
it as she sees it - quietly, without fuss, simply gathering
information with which to confront the authorities later.
In Burmese Looking Glass, Mirante traveled among opium drug
lords and troops of women soldiers. In Rat Hole, she enters
the worlds of guerilla warfare and heroin and jade trading,
and realizes the full extent of the AIDs pandemic in the
The book covers one of the worst natural disasters of the
20th century - the typhoon and tsunami that engulfed
Bangladesh in April 1991, killing 139,000. As she relates
seeing bodies washed ashore and caught in trees, the passage
has deep resonance, given the events of December 26, 2004.
Among the hardship and tragedy, there's humour and irony. At
one stage Mirante narrowly avoids being caught at a
dangerous checkpoint because a truck in front of hers nearly
swerves off the road, and by the time it's salvaged the
guard agrees there's no time for security. She spends much
time in cockroach-infested hotel bathrooms repeatedly dying
her blonde hair black so as to blend in.
In the end though, Mirante's message is a simple one, just
the two words that close the book: "Free Burma."
South China Morning Post (Hong Kong). 29 May 2005.
"DOWN THE RAT HOLE: Adventures Underground on Burma's
Frontiers" is the new book by Edith Mirante (author of
"Burmese Looking Glass") published by Orchid Press:
In Asia, order online from:
"Down the Rat Hole" is available at Powells.com:
It can also be requested from your local bookshop or ordered
Sripanngern: Sun, 13 Feb 2005
A SPECIAL INTRODUCTION TO NAI TUN THEIN
Tun Thein is a Mon scholar and has been a respected leader in the Mon
national political movement for over 5 decades. He has committed his
life to Mon self-determination and has been actively involved in
promoting democracy for Burma for more than a half century. Before Burma
gained independence in 1948, he worked with Nai Shwe Kyin, the leader of
the New Mon State Party; both became influential figures in their
Nai Tun Thein has been and continues to be an excellent role model for
the younger generation and has worked continuously for political
representation not only for the Mon but for all the political
nationalities in Burma. In a sense he epitomizes the movement by placing
his work for Mon self-determination before personal interest. He
expresses his goodwill to many and his kindness is immeasurable. By
nature he is quiet and unassuming, but is an active and vocal
participate in promoting democracy and participates at all levels in
national and political organizations. He went through a rough time and
spent (10) years in Burmese jungle outposts working with his friends and
colleagues, but remained closely connected to ordinary Mon people.
Widely respected by all Mon for his honesty, keen sense of history, and
open mind, he is known for his dedication to Mon education. He loves
literature and has written several books and articles for the Mon and
other nationalities. In his free time he enjoys teaching classic Mon
literature and describes in lively detail Mon stone inscriptions. Most
of his (88) years has been spent overcoming suffering, unfairness and
injustice. While he could retire anytime and live comfortably as he is
loved by many, he chooses to persist in struggling for Mon rights and
social justice. He still takes the local bus to downtown crowded
Rangoon. Although he sometimes says he is getting old, he never shows
any sign of giving up the struggle until his goals of equality,
democracy, peace and self-determination for his people have been
reached. I pack my clothes in a bag, I am ready to be detained by the
(MI), says Nai Tun Thein whenever he leaves his home. His
spirit has touched thousands and has gained the respect he deserves as a
leader and a teacher. Seen from far away, the victory of national
freedom is sometimes hazy and sometimes not seen at all, but we can
count on him to keep walking ahead to achieve our dream.
Kun Yekha (author of Nai Tun Theins biography)
For who those
would like to have the book, please drop a line with you/your
organization address to;
<firstname.lastname@example.org> or <email@example.com>
We can be called any time at;
Nai Sunthorn Sriperngern (66 6 147 1474 or 66 2 428 6232)
Nai Kun Yekha (66 1 561 0860)
MON COMMUNITY RIGHTS IN THAI VERSION
Mon Community Rights (Thai Version): The case of the impact
of the gas pipeline towards local community and Mon refugees
at Sangkhlaburi District, Kanchanaburi Province was
published by Nittham Publishing House (Advanced Law Books
Publisher) in Bangkok in March 2004.
With the size of 14.5 x 21 cm, 498 pages and price in Thai
Baht 350, this research surveys Mon ethno-history from
prehistory to the present; from Dvaravati and Hariphunchai
in Thailand to Thaton, Martaban and Pegu kingdoms in Burma
until the Mon downfall in 1757; the Mon migrations and
settlements in Thailand from Ayutthaya to early Bangkok
period. It also covers Mon culture, tradition, and ways of
life in Thailand; the roles of Mon people in Thai history
and influences of Mon culture in Thailand, in order to
synthesize the concept of Mon community rights, with the
help of data from Mon ancient law, Mon literature and
interviews with Mon people in the communities.
The book found that Mon community rights are also based on
the beliefs in animism and Buddhism. The Mon community
entity is formed on the awareness of distinguished identity
of the Mon people. The structure of power ideology and
relation of community are from the level of the family's
House-hold Spirit, the clan's Ancestor Spirit, the Guardian
Spirit of the village, the monastery of the group of
villages and localities. The Mon Community Rights includes
the rights in using language, protection from the community,
religious belief, community establishment, community leader
election, receiving justice, the right of the first comer,
the benefit maker as necessary and the common resource
The book surveys the political movements for autonomous
rights of the Mon people in Burma, history of Mon settlement
in Sangkhlaburi District, Kanchanaburi Province, the
Thai-Burma gas pipeline project and its impact to the local
It evaluates violations of human rights against the Mon
people, on the non-acquisition of Thai nationality, and
discrimination practices on Mon refugees. The incidents
invoke the call for Thai nationality and official refugee
status. The conclusion suggests a policy for the Mon
community rights and human rights for Mon refugees in
пїЅIt is a good information paper for many Thai Mons who can
not read in their language. The Thai Mons are getting more
active and even have the rights to officially learn their
language; but it is still a long way to go because many
resource (teachers and materials) are needed to revitalize
their language,пїЅ said a Thai Mon leader in Bangkok.
LAND WITHOUT EVIL: NEW BOOK ON BURMA TO BE PUBLISHED
A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of the Burma's Karen People
by Benedict Rogers will be published in March 2004.
According to the source, the book tells the history of the Karen people
but is focused on the suffering of all the people of Burma.
author, Benedict Rogers who is a journalist and
human rights campaigner, currently working for
Christian Solidarity Worldwide in Washington,
DC, aims to draw attention to the genocide and
ethnic cleansing taking place in Burma today. It
is not intended to be a scholarly,
anthropological book, but more a call to action.
The book, contains about 254 pages with photographs, includes chapters
on the democracy movement of 1988, the Free Burma Rangers, the
Internally Displaced People and refugees, and the armed resistance. It
contains inspiring stories of courage, faith and dignity, alongside
stories of suffering.
Dr. David Aikman, former senior correspondent of TIME in his review said,
"Benedict Rogers has written a moving and detailed account of the
tragedy of the oppressed Karen people of Burma. He brings to life one of
the most under-reported examples of ethnic repression in modern times. A
LAND WITHOUT EVIL should be read by every responsible citizen of those
nations claiming to espouse the principles of global justice."
GOLDEN SHELDRAKE SET TO FLY
- (Kao-Wao, June
history of the Mon people of lower Burma and Thailand, "The Golden
Sheldrake" written by Ashley South will be available in July this
year according to the author.
history from the earliest times to the present, the book describes the
origins of Burma's ethnic politics in the pre-colonial era and
developments during the British (and Japanese) colonial periods.
Following independence in 1948, Burma was plunged into a civil war,
which still drags on today. 'The Golden Sheldrake' explores the
background to and major episodes in the war, and compares the
experiences of various parties to the conflict, including the Mon, Karen
and Kachin ethnic communities and insurgent organisations. It describes
the dynamics of armed conflict in Burma, and examines the controversial
series of cease-fire agreements negotiated since 1989, between various
insurgent armies and the military government. Exploring the relationship
between the Burmese democracy movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the
ethnic insurgents, international and local non-government organisations,
and Burma's one million-plus refugees, the book concludes by looking at
the future of the ‘ethnic question' in Burma.
Sheldrake' will be of interest to students of Southeast Asian history
and politics. Anthropologists will appreciate the sustained focus on
issues of identity and assimilation, whilst the author's first-hand
accounts of the humanitarian crisis along the Thailand-Burma border are
of particular relevance to the study of displacement and
conducted an interview with the author in January of this year. Ashley
South lived and worked with the Mons for seven years and is currently
studying at the University of London's School of Oriental and African
Studies (SOAS). "With one or two exceptions, Westerners writing
about contemporary Burmese politics have tended to neglect the Mon and
other ethnic minority groups, and down-play the significance of the
cease-fire process in Burma. At the risk of over-emphasising the role of
the former, and without necessarily endorsing the latter, the book is an
attempt to redress the balance," said the author during interview.
Those who are
interested to view the book please do so to Curzon Press Ltd., 51a
George Street, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1HJ, UK and email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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